MY SMALL, GOOD THING

I had an insatiable hunger as a child, which I tried to feed with chapter books, great stacks that I collected on weekly library trips—cradled below my belly and held in place with my chin, as I carried them to the checkout counter.

That hunger is still present, but fiction often feels insubstantial these days, with so little time to spare and so much to accomplish. That shelf of titles on trauma, addiction, blended families, communication, grief, and more—I need what they contain. I need it all, I need it now. Such is the pressing quality of community mental health.

My intimate contact with the stories of traumatized children leaves me with simultaneous and contradictory incentives. One, to write so vividly of the horrors I hear and the pain I witness, that the general reader looks at the world anew: aghast and called to action. Two, to obscure those horrors so as not to titillate prurient minds or inspire troubled imaginations.

Sitting with memories of trauma is usually manageable; harder by far is to know that a trauma is ongoing—unfolding right before me in my office at times, in the words of caregivers who evidence no care to give, likely having received too little when they themselves were small. Harder is listening to parents, grandparents, and guardians who are overwhelmed and relentlessly negative, who fill the ears and hearts of their charges with every kind of blame and shame, each and every possible iteration of No. Needing to be diplomatic for the umpteenth time, when that is the last thing I feel; turning down the heat lest I, too, boil over.

So it is that I recommend Raymond Carver’s story, “A Small, Good Thing,” a masterful sketch of anguish in the ordinary world, and the humble ways we can assuage it. I reread it not long ago and carry that title within me, a phrase that describes the bird feeder on my window. How it took the birds two weeks to find it, but the first I saw was the male house finch, ardently red from crown to breast and finely patterned white and brown beneath. How the female house finch brings their juveniles to feed them beak to beak, while the punk-rock tufted titmouse busies himself with the sunflower seed.

Whatever else the day brings, there is that.

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The Raymond Carver story mentioned above appears in his great collection Cathedral, as well as numerous anthologies. Out of respect for client privacy, names here are always changed or omitted. Text and image copyrights held by me. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it. To subscribe and receive future posts, please look to the upper right on your computer screen, or scroll to the bottom of the page on your mobile device. Thank you for reading!

8 thoughts on “MY SMALL, GOOD THING

    • Thank you, Tonye, for the gracious and encouraging words. There are many types of human suffering, it’s true. It’s always my hope that becoming aware and active in one area can have wider effects, if only by predisposing the mind to care more and more and look around clear-sightedly. I know it doesn’t always work out that way, as people have their pet causes and often fail to see the bigger picture (one easy example is the production of merchandise that advertises causes, which all too often is NOT produced in fair-labor conditions). So glad you “stopped by”!

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      • You’re welcome! Not everyone has the strength to do what you do and your authenticity and caring came through in your post. They level of commitment and honesty only comes when you embrace your passion and purpose. I’m glad I stopped by!😉🌸

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    • Hi, it’s nice to hear from you. Unfortunately “what I can” is nowhere near enough in some situations; but I appreciate your warm, kind words. I hope you’re well!

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      • Reading your post, I walk remibdedl of a friend of mine working in community mental health with adults. And I was thinking too of you therapists and how you give, and care, and try your best. No, you cannot prevent the traumas happening in your office (and him those happening right in the house/room) but hopefully a little child will remember you weren’t OK with it, and carry that in their heart

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        • When I was little, I saw my mom express a spacious friendliness with people of all ages in public places, maybe especially kids. “Spacious,” meaning that she didn’t lean, insert herself, or persist, but chose her moment and held her own space while speaking to others. She told me that we couldn’t know what such gestures might mean to someone, how much they might help or matter. I think that idea has never been so challenged OR so sustaining as it is to me now.

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